Jordan Hill eyed the 12-game schedule for his senior season and, considering the looming end of his career, he made a decision.
“I’m just sitting there, and I’m like, ‘Alright, I only got 12 games left,’” Hill said. “‘I got to try to make every play I possibly can.’”
The defensive tackle said knowing this season was the last chance to leave his mark, he started off Penn State’s season trying to take over the game as opposed to staying within his comfort zone. And Hill’s results demonstrated the negative effects of this, as he averaged just 3.3 tackles per game in the first three games.
The senior said that although his intentions were to help the team as much as possible, thinking about this too much can adversely affect the team’s defensive production.
“At the same time, you can’t dwell on it because you might try to do too much,” Hill said. “That’s what I think I was trying to do in the beginning of the season, trying to do too much because I knew I didn’t have that much time left.”
Of course, Hill wasn’t the only Nittany Lion defender to start off the season on a low note. After leading each of the first two games at halftime, the Lions’ defense allowed the opponent to come from behind in both losses, struggling heavily to get off the field.
With this in mind, Hill said he tried too hard to personally counteract the downward trend.
Fellow senior Gerald Hodges said it’s natural for the upperclassmen to try to gain a sense of ownership of their last season in Happy Valley.
“As a senior, you definitely think you got to be that savior,” Hodges said. “But, if we all just go out there and play our role, we’ll be fine.”
Hill, following Hodges’ logic, said he has since turned his mentality around, letting the game come to him, similar to in years past.
In the Lions’ last four games, the defensive tackle has averaged 6.8 tackles per game.
“I was like, ‘I’m done with that [style of play],’” Hill said. “‘I’m not trying to do extra stuff, just play the game you know how to, and it’ll speak for itself.’”
Hill led the defense in a dominating victory against Iowa on Saturday when he recorded a season-high nine tackles, including one sack. The effort resulted in the senior’s first career Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week award.
The defensive tackle led the defense in tackles and played a major role in its ability to hold the Hawkeyes to 209 total yards, including just 20 yards on the ground.
Hill said his improved play speaks not only to his renewed attitude but also to the supporting cast he plays with.
“I think I’ve been playing pretty good, but [my recent play] says a lot about how the defensive line is playing,” Hill said. “Without us playing together and getting off the ball, and coach [Larry Johnson] coaching us hard right now, it wouldn’t be possible for any individual to succeed.”
Despite linebackers Michael Mauti and Hodges often yielding much of the spotlight for Penn State’s defense, senior Michael Zordich said Hill’s performance against Iowa is a reminder that he deserves to be mentioned in the same conversation.
“He carries the same thing,” Hill said. “I know he was being humble about it, but he has that same presence out there. He has that same motor, and he makes just as many plays.”